Birds and Poets
John Burroughs

Part 2 out of 4


I once saw a cow that had lost her cud. How forlorn and desolate
and sick at heart that cow looked! No more rumination, no more of
that second and finer mastication, no more of that sweet and juicy
reverie under the spreading trees, or in the stall. Then the farmer
took an elder and scraped the bark and put something with it, and
made the cow a cud, and, after due waiting, the experiment took, a
response came back, and the mysterious machinery was once more in
motion, and the cow was herself again.

Have you, O poet, or essayist, or story-writer, never lost your
cud, and wandered about days and weeks without being able to start
a single thought or an image that tasted good,--your literary
appetite dull or all gone, and the conviction daily growing that it
was all over with you in that direction? A little elder-bark,
something fresh and bitter from the woods, is about the best thing
you can take.


Notwithstanding what I have elsewhere said about the desolation of
snow, when one looks closely it is little more than a thin veil
after all, and takes and repeats the form of whatever it covers.
Every path through the fields is just as plain as before. On every
hand the ground sends tokens, and the curves and slopes are not of
the snow, but of the earth beneath. In like manner the rankest
vegetation hides the ground less than we think. Looking across a
wide valley in the month of July, I have noted that the fields,
except the meadows, had a ruddy tinge, and that corn, which near at
hand seemed to completely envelop the soil, at that distance gave
only a slight shade of green. The color of the ground everywhere
predominated, and I doubt not that, if we could see the earth from
a point sufficiently removed, as from the moon, its ruddy hue, like
that of Mars, would alone be visible.

What is a man but a miniature earth, with many disguises in the way
of manners, possessions, dissemblances? Yet through all--through
all the work of his hands and all the thoughts of his mind--how
surely the ground quality of him, the fundamental hue, whether it
be this or that, makes itself felt and is alone important!


Men follow their noses, it is said. I have wondered why the Greek
did not follow his nose in architecture,--did not copy those arches
that spring from it as from a pier, and support his brow,--but
always and everywhere used the post and the lintel. There was
something in that face that has never reappeared in the human
countenance. I am thinking especially of that straight, strong
profile. Is it really godlike, or is this impression the result of
association? But any suggestion or reminiscence of it in the
modern face at once gives one the idea of strength. It is a face
strong in the loins, or it suggests a high, elastic instep. It is
the face of order and proportion. Those arches are the symbols of
law and self-control. The point of greatest interest is the union
of the nose with the brow,--that strong, high embankment; it makes
the bridge from the ideal to the real sure and easy. All the
Greek's ideas passed readily into form. In the modern face the
arches are more or less crushed, and the nose is severed from the
brow,--hence the abstract and the analytic; hence the preponderance
of the speculative intellect over creative power.


I have thought that the boy is the only true lover of Nature, and
that we, who make such a dead set at studying and admiring her,
come very wide of the mark. "The nonchalance of a boy who is sure
of his dinner," says our Emerson, "is the healthy attitude of
humanity." The boy is a part of Nature; he is as indifferent, as
careless, as vagrant as she. He browses, he digs, he hunts, he
climbs, he halloes, he feeds on roots and greens and mast. He uses
things roughly and without sentiment. The coolness with which boys
will drown dogs or cats, or hang them to trees, or murder young
birds, or torture frogs or squirrels, is like Nature's own

Certain it is that we often get some of the best touches of nature
from children. Childhood is a world by itself, and we listen to
children when they frankly speak out of it with a strange interest.
There is such a freedom from responsibility and from worldly
wisdom,--it is heavenly wisdom. There is no sentiment in children,
because there is no ruin; nothing has gone to decay about them
yet,--not a leaf or a twig. Until he is well into his teens, and
sometimes later, a boy is like a bean-pod before the fruit has
developed,--indefinite, succulent, rich in possibilities which are
only vaguely outlined. He is a pericarp merely. How rudimental are
all his ideas! I knew a boy who began his school composition on
swallows by saying there were two kinds of swallows,--chimney
swallows and swallows.

Girls come to themselves sooner; are indeed, from the first, more
definite and "translatable."


Who will write the natural history of the boy? One of the first
points to be taken account of is his clannishness. The boys of one
neighborhood are always pitted against those of an adjoining
neighborhood, or of one end of the town against those of the other
end. A bridge, a river, a railroad track, are always boundaries of
hostile or semi-hostile tribes. The boys that go up the road from
the country school hoot derisively at those that go down the road,
and not infrequently add the insult of stones; and the down-roaders
return the hooting and the missiles with interest.

Often there is open war, and the boys meet and have regular
battles. A few years since, the boys of two rival towns on opposite
sides of the Ohio River became so belligerent that the authorities
had to interfere. Whenever an Ohio boy was caught on the West
Virginia side of the river, he was unmercifully beaten; and when a
West Virginia boy was discovered on the Ohio side, he was pounced
upon in the same manner. One day a vast number of boys, about one
hundred and fifty on a side, met by appointment upon the ice and
engaged in a pitched battle. Every conceivable missile was used,
including pistols. The battle, says the local paper, raged with
fury for about two hours. One boy received a wound behind the ear,
from the effects of which he died the next morning. More recently
the boys of a large manufacturing town of New Jersey were divided
into two hostile clans that came into frequent collision. One
Saturday both sides mustered their forces, and a regular fight
ensued, one boy here also losing his life from the encounter.

Every village and settlement is at times the scene of these
youthful collisions When a new boy appears in the village, or at
the country school, how the other boys crowd around him and take
his measure, or pick at him and insult him to try his mettle!

I knew a boy, twelve or thirteen years old, who was sent to help a
drover with some cattle as far as a certain village ten miles from
his home. After the place was reached, and while the boy was
eating his cracker and candies, he strolled about the village, and
fell in with some other boys playing upon a bridge. In a short
time a large number of children of all sizes had collected upon the
bridge. The new-comer was presently challenged by the boys of his
own age to jump with them. This he readily did, and cleared their
farthest mark. Then he gave them a sample of his stone-throwing,
and at this pastime he also far surpassed his competitors. Before
long, the feeling of the crowd began to set against him, showing
itself first in the smaller fry, who began half playfully to throw
pebbles and lumps of dry earth at him. Then they would run up
slyly and strike him with sticks. Presently the large ones began
to tease him in like manner, till the contagion of hostility
spread, and the whole pack was arrayed against the strange boy. He
kept them at bay for a few moments with his stick, till, the
feeling mounting higher and higher, he broke through their ranks,
and fled precipitately toward home, with the throng of little and
big at his heels. Gradually the girls and smaller boys dropped
behind, till at the end of the first fifty rods only two boys of
about his own size, with wrath and determination in their faces,
kept up the pursuit. But to these he added the final insult of
beating them at running also, and reached, much blown, a point
beyond which they refused to follow.

The world the boy lives in is separate and distinct from the world
the man lives in. It is a world inhabited only by boys. No events
are important or of any moment save those affecting boys. How they
ignore the presence of their elders on the street, shouting out
their invitations, their appointments, their pass-words from our
midst, as from the veriest solitude! They have peculiar calls,
whistles, signals, by which they communicate with each other at
long distances, like birds or wild creatures. And there is as
genuine a wildness about these notes and calls as about those of a
fox or a coon.

The boy is a savage, a barbarian, in his taste,--devouring roots,
leaves, bark, unripe fruit; and in the kind of music or discord he
delights in,--of harmony he has no perception. He has his fashions
that spread from city to city. In one of our large cities the rage
at one time was an old tin can with a string attached, out of which
they tortured the most savage and ear-splitting discords. The
police were obliged to interfere and suppress the nuisance. On
another occasion, at Christmas, they all came forth with tin horns,
and nearly drove the town distracted with the hideous uproar.

Another savage trait of the boy is his untruthfulness. Corner him,
and the chances are ten to one he will lie his way out. Conscience
is a plant of slow growth in the boy. If caught in one lie, he
invents another. I know a boy who was in the habit of eating apples
in school. His teacher finally caught him in the act, and, without
removing his eye from him, called him to the middle of the floor.

"I saw you this time," said the teacher.

"Saw me what?" said the boy innocently.

"Bite that apple," replied the teacher.

"No, sir," said the rascal.

"Open your mouth;" and from its depths the teacher, with his thumb
and finger, took out the piece of apple.

"Did n't know it was there," said the boy, unabashed.

Nearly all the moral sentiment and graces are late in maturing in
the boy. He has no proper self-respect till past his majority. Of
course there are exceptions, but they are mostly windfalls. The
good boys die young. We lament the wickedness and thoughtlessness
of the young vagabonds at the same time that we know it is mainly
the acridity and bitterness of the unripe fruit that we are


People who have not made friends with the birds do not know how
much they miss. Especially to one living in the country, of strong
local attachments and an observing turn of mind, does an
acquaintance with the birds form a close and invaluable tie. The
only time I saw Thomas Carlyle, I remember his relating, apropos of
this subject, that in his earlier days he was sent on a journey to
a distant town on some business that gave him much bother and
vexation, and that on his way back home, forlorn and dejected, he
suddenly heard the larks singing all about him,--soaring and
singing, just as they did about his father's fields, and it
comforted him and cheered him up amazingly.

Most lovers of the birds can doubtless recall similar experiences
from their own lives. Nothing wonts me to a new place more than the
birds. I go, for instance, to take up my abode in the country,--to
plant myself upon unfamiliar ground. I know nobody, and nobody
knows me. The roads, the fields, the hills, the streams, the woods,
are all strange. I look wistfully upon them, but they know me not.
They give back nothing to my yearning gaze. But there, on every
hand, are the long-familiar birds,--the same ones I left behind me,
the same ones I knew in my youth,--robins, sparrows, swallows,
bobolinks, crows, hawks, high-holes, meadowlarks, all there before
me, and ready to renew and perpetuate the old associations. Before
my house is begun, theirs is completed; before I have taken root at
all, they are thoroughly established. I do not yet know what kind
of apples my apple-trees bear, but there, in the cavity of a
decayed limb, the bluebirds are building a nest, and yonder, on
that branch, the social sparrow is busy with hairs and straws. The
robins have tasted the quality of my cherries, and the cedar-birds
have known every red cedar on the place these many years. While my
house is yet surrounded by its scaffoldings, the phoebe-bird has
built her exquisite mossy nest on a projecting stone beneath the
eaves, a robin has filled a niche in the wall with mud and dry
grass, the chimney swallows are going out and in the chimney, and a
pair of house wrens are at home in a snug cavity over the door,
and, during an April snowstorm, a number of hermit thrushes have
taken shelter in my unfinished chambers. Indeed, I am in the midst
of friends before I fairly know it. The place is not so new as I
had thought. It is already old; the birds have supplied the
memories of many decades of years.

There is something almost pathetic in the fact that the birds
remain forever the same. You grow old, your friends die or move to
distant lands, events sweep on, and all things are changed. Yet
there in your garden or orchard are the birds of your boyhood, the
same notes, the same calls, and, to all intents and purposes, the
identical birds endowed with perennial youth. The swallows, that
built so far out of your reach beneath the eaves of your father's
barn, the same ones now squeak and chatter beneath the eaves of
your barn. The warblers and shy wood-birds you pursued with such
glee ever so many summers ago, and whose names you taught to some
beloved youth who now, perchance, sleeps amid his native hills, no
marks of time or change cling to them; and when you walk out to the
strange woods, there they are, mocking you with their ever-renewed
and joyous youth. The call of the high-holes, the whistle of the
quail, the strong piercing note of the meadowlark, the drumming of
the grouse,--how these sounds ignore the years, and strike on the
ear with the melody of that springtime when the world was young,
and life was all holiday and romance!

During any unusual tension of the feelings or emotions, how the
note or song of a single bird will sink into the memory, and become
inseparably associated with your grief or joy! Shall I ever again
be able to hear the song of the oriole without being pierced
through and through? Can it ever be other than a dirge for the dead
to me? Day after day, and week after week, this bird whistled and
warbled in a mulberry by the door, while sorrow, like a pall,
darkened my day. So loud and persistent was the singer that his
note teased and worried my excited ear.

"Hearken to yon pine warbler,
Singing aloft in the tree!
Hearest thou, O traveler!
What he singeth to me?

"Not unless God made sharp thine ear
With sorrow such as mine,
Out of that delicate lay couldst thou
Its heavy tale divine."

It is the opinion of some naturalists that birds never die what is
called a natural death, but come to their end by some murderous or
accidental means; yet I have found sparrows and vireos in the
fields and woods dead or dying, that bore no marks of violence; and
I remember that once in my childhood a redbird fell down in the
yard exhausted, and was brought in by the girl; its bright scarlet
image is indelibly stamped upon my recollection. It is not known
that birds have any distempers like the domestic fowls, but I saw a
social sparrow one day quite disabled by some curious malady that
suggested a disease that sometimes attacks poultry; one eye was
nearly put out by a scrofulous-looking sore, and on the last joint
of one wing there was a large tumorous or fungous growth that
crippled the bird completely. On another occasion I picked up one
that appeared well, but could not keep its centre of gravity when
in flight, and so fell to the ground.

One reason why dead birds and animals are so rarely found is, that
on the approach of death their instinct prompts them to creep away
in some hole or under some cover, where they will be least liable
to fall a prey to their natural enemies. It is doubtful if any of
the game-birds, like the pigeon and grouse, ever die of old age, or
the semi-game-birds, like the bobolink, or the "century living"
crow; but in what other form can death overtake the hummingbird, or
even the swift and the barn swallow? Such are true birds of the
air; they may be occasionally lost at sea during their migrations,
but, so far as I know, they are not preyed upon by any other

The valley of the Hudson, I find, forms a great natural highway for
the birds, as do doubtless the Connecticut, the Susquehanna, the
Delaware, and all other large water-courses running north and
south. The birds love an easy way, and in the valleys of the rivers
they find a road already graded for them; and they abound more in
such places throughout the season than they do farther inland. The
swarms of robins that come to us in early spring are a delight to
behold. In one of his poems Emerson speaks of

"April's bird,
Blue-coated, flying before from tree to tree;"

but April's bird with me is the robin, brisk, vociferous, musical,
dotting every field, and larking it in every grove; he is as easily
atop at this season as the bobolink is a month or two later. The
tints of April are ruddy and brown,--the new furrow and the
leafless trees,--and these are the tints of its dominant bird.

>From my dining-room window I look, or did look, out upon a long
stretch of smooth meadow, and as pretty a spring sight as I ever
wish to behold was this field, sprinkled all over with robins,
their red breasts turned toward the morning sun, or their pert
forms sharply outlined against lingering patches of snow. Every
morning for weeks I had those robins for breakfast; but what they
had I never could find out.

After the leaves are out, and gayer colors come into fashion, the
robin takes a back seat. He goes to housekeeping in the old apple-
tree, or, what he likes better, the cherry-tree. A pair reared
their domestic altar (of mud and dry grass) in one of the latter
trees, where I saw much of them. The cock took it upon himself to
keep the tree free of all other robins during cherry time, and its
branches were the scene of some lively tussles every hour in the
day. The innocent visitor would scarcely alight before the jealous
cock was upon him; but while he was thrusting the intruder out at
one side, a second would be coming in on the other. He managed,
however, to protect his cherries very well, but had so little time
to eat the fruit himself that we got fully our share.

I have frequently seen the robin courting, and have always been
astonished and amused at the utter coldness and indifference of the
female. The females of every species of bird, however, I believe,
have this in common,--they are absolutely free from coquetry, or
any airs and wiles whatever. In most cases, Nature has given the
song and the plumage to the other sex, and all the embellishing and
acting is done by the male bird.

I am always at home when I see the passenger pigeon. Few spectacles
please me more than to see clouds of these birds sweeping across
the sky, and few sounds are more agreeable to my ear than their
lively piping and calling in the spring woods. They come in such
multitudes, they people the whole air; they cover townships, and
make the solitary places gay as with a festival. The naked woods
are suddenly blue as with fluttering ribbons and scarfs, and vocal
as with the voices of children. Their arrival is always unexpected.
We know April will bring the robins and May the bobolinks, but we
do not know that either they or any other month will bring the
passenger pigeon. Sometimes years elapse and scarcely a flock is
seen. Then, of a sudden, some March or April they come pouring over
the horizon from the south or southwest, and for a few days the
land is alive with them.

The whole race seems to be collected in a few vast swarms or
assemblages. Indeed, I have sometimes thought there was only one
such in the United States, and that it moved in squads, and
regiments, and brigades, and divisions, like a giant army. The
scouting and foraging squads are not unusual, and every few years
we see larger bodies of them, but rarely indeed do we witness the
spectacle of the whole vast tribe in motion. Sometimes we hear of
them in Virginia, or Kentucky and Tennessee; then in Ohio or
Pennsylvania; then in New York; then in Canada or Michigan or
Missouri. They are followed from point to point, and from State to
State, by human sharks, who catch and shoot them for market.

A year ago last April, the pigeons flew for two or three days up
and down the Hudson. In long bowing lines, or else in dense masses,
they moved across the sky. It was not the whole army, but I should
think at least one corps of it; I had not seen such a flight of
pigeons since my boyhood. I went up to the top of the house, the
better to behold the winged procession. The day seemed memorable
and poetic in which such sights occurred.

[Footnote: This proved to be the last flight of the pigeons
in the valley of the Hudson. The whole tribe has now (1895)
been nearly exterminated by pot-hunters. The few that still
remain appear to be scattered through the Northern States
in small, loose flocks.]

While I was looking at the pigeons, a flock of wild geese went by,
harrowing the sky northward. The geese strike a deeper chord than
the pigeons. Level and straight they go as fate to its mark. I
cannot tell what emotions these migrating birds awaken in me,--the
geese especially. One seldom sees more than a flock or two in a
season, and what a spring token it is! The great bodies are in
motion. It is like the passage of a victorious army. No longer inch
by inch does spring come, but these geese advance the standard
across zones at one pull. How my desire goes with them; how
something in me, wild and migratory, plumes itself and follows

"Steering north, with raucous cry,
Through tracts and provinces of sky,
Every night alighting down
In new landscapes of romance,
Where darkling feed the clamorous clans
By lonely lakes to men unknown."

Dwelling upon these sights, I am reminded that the seeing of spring
come, not only upon the great wings of the geese and the lesser
wings of the pigeons and birds, but in the many more subtle and
indirect signs and mediums, is also a part of the compensation of
living in the country. I enjoy not less what may be called the
negative side of spring,-- those dark, dank, dissolving days,
yellow sposh and mud and water everywhere,--yet who can stay long
indoors? The humidity is soft and satisfying to the smell, and to
the face and hands, and, for the first time for months, there is
the fresh odor of the earth. The air is full of the notes and calls
of the first birds. The domestic fowls refuse their accustomed food
and wander far from the barn. Is it something winter has left, or
spring has dropped, that they pick up? And what is it that holds me
so long standing in the yard or in the fields? Something besides
the ice and snow melts and runs away with the spring floods.

The little sparrows and purple finches are so punctual in
announcing spring, that some seasons one wonders how they know
without looking in the almanac, for surely there are no signs of
spring out of doors. Yet they will strike up as cheerily amid the
driving snow as if they had just been told that to-morrow is the
first day of March. About the same time I notice the potatoes in
the cellar show signs of sprouting. They, too, find out so quickly
when spring is near. Spring comes by two routes,--in the air and
underground, and often gets here by the latter course first. She
undermines Winter when outwardly his front is nearly as bold as
ever. I have known the trees to bud long before, by outward
appearances, one would expect them to. The frost was gone from the
ground before the snow was gone from the surface.

But Winter hath his birds also; some of them such tiny bodies that
one wonders how they withstand the giant cold,--but they do. Birds
live on highly concentrated food,--the fine seeds of weeds and
grasses, and the eggs and larvae of insects. Such food must be very
stimulating and heating. A gizzard full of ants, for instance,
what spiced and seasoned extract is equal to that? Think what
virtue there must be in an ounce of gnats or mosquitoes, or in the
fine mysterious food the chickadee and the brown creeper gather in
the winter woods! It is doubtful if these birds ever freeze when
fuel enough can be had to keep their little furnaces going. And, as
they get their food entirely from the limbs and trunks of trees,
like the woodpeckers, their supply is seldom interfered with by the
snow. The worst annoyance must be the enameling of ice our winter
woods sometimes get.

Indeed, the food question seems to be the only serious one with the
birds. Give them plenty to eat, and no doubt the majority of them
would face our winters. I believe all the woodpeckers are winter
birds, except the high-hole or yellow-hammer, and he obtains the
greater part of his subsistence from the ground, and is not a
woodpecker at all in his habits of feeding. Were it not that it has
recourse to budding, the ruffed grouse would be obliged to migrate.
The quail--a bird, no doubt, equally hardy, but whose food is at
the mercy of the snow--is frequently cut off by our severe winters
when it ventures to brave them, which is not often. Where plenty of
the berries of the red cedar can be had, the cedar-bird will pass
the winter in New York. The old ornithologists say the bluebird
migrates to Bermuda; but in the winter of 1874-75, severe as it
was, a pair of them wintered with me eighty miles north of New York
city. They seem to have been decided in their choice by the
attractions of my rustic porch and the fruit of a sugar-berry tree
(celtis--a kind of tree-lotus) that stood in front of it. They
lodged in the porch and took their meals in the tree. Indeed, they
became regular lotus-eaters. Punctually at dusk they were in their
places on a large laurel root in the top of the porch, whence,
however, they were frequently routed by an indignant broom that was
jealous of the neatness of the porch floor. But the pair would not
take any hints of this kind, and did not give up their quarters in
the porch or their lotus berries till spring.

Many times during the winter the sugar-berry tree was visited by a
flock of cedar-birds that also wintered in the vicinity. At such
times it was amusing to witness the pretty wrath of the bluebirds,
scolding and threatening the intruders, and begrudging them every
berry they ate. The bluebird cannot utter a harsh or unpleasing
note. Indeed, he seems to have but one language, one speech, for
both love and war, and the expression of his indignation is nearly
as musical as his song. The male frequently made hostile
demonstrations toward the cedar-birds, but did not openly attack
them, and, with his mate, appeared to experience great relief when
the poachers had gone.

I had other company in my solitude also, among the rest a
distinguished arrival from the far north, the pine grosbeak, a bird
rarely seen in these parts, except now and then a single specimen.
But in the winter of 1875, heralding the extreme cold weather, and
no doubt in consequence of it, there was a large incursion of them
into this State and New England. They attracted the notice of the
country people everywhere. I first saw them early in December about
the head of the Delaware. I was walking along a cleared ridge with
my gun, just at sundown, when I beheld two strange birds sitting in
a small maple. On bringing one of them down, I found it was a bird
I had never before seen; in color and shape like the purple finch,
but quite as large again in size. From its heavy beak, I at once
recognized it as belonging to the family of grosbeaks. A few days
later I saw large numbers of them in the woods, on the ground, and
in the trees. And still later, and on till February, they were very
numerous on the Hudson, coming all about my house,--more familiar
even than the little snowbird, hopping beneath the windows, and
looking up at me apparently with as much curiosity as I looked down
upon them. They fed on the buds of the sugar maples and upon frozen
apples in the orchard. They were mostly young birds and females,
colored very much like the common sparrow, with now and then
visible the dull carmine-colored head and neck of an old male.

Other northern visitors that tarried with me the same winter were
the tree or Canada sparrow and the redpoll, the former a bird
larger than the social sparrow or hair-bird, but otherwise much
resembling it, and distinguishable by a dark spot in the middle of
its breast; the latter a bird the size and shape of the common
goldfinch, with the same manner of flight and nearly the same note
or cry, but darker than the winter plumage of the goldfinch, and
with a red crown and a tinge of red on the breast. Little bands of
these two species lurked about the barnyard all winter, picking up
the hayseed, the sparrow sometimes venturing in on the haymow when
the supply outside was short. I felt grateful to them for their
company. They gave a sort of ornithological air to every errand I
had to the barn.

Though a number of birds face our winters, and by various shifts
worry through till spring, some of them permanent residents, and
some of them visitors from the far north, yet there is but one
genuine snow bird, nursling of the snow, and that is the snow
bunting, a bird that seems proper to this season, heralding the
coming storm, sweeping by on bold and rapid wing, and calling and
chirping as cheerily as the songsters of May. In its plumage it
reflects the winter landscape,--an expanse of white surmounted or
streaked with gray and brown; a field of snow with a line of woods
or a tinge of stubble. It fits into the scene, and does not appear
to lead a beggarly and disconsolate life, like most of our winter
residents. During the ice-harvesting on the river, I see them
flitting about among the gangs of men, or floating on the cakes of
ice, picking and scratching amid the droppings of the horses. They
love the stack and hay-barn in the distant field, where the farmer
fodders his cattle upon the snow, and every red-root, ragweed, or
pigweed left standing in the fall adds to their winter stores.

Though this bird, and one or two others, like the chickadee and
nuthatch, are more or less complacent and cheerful during the
winter, yet no bird can look our winters in the face and sing, as
do so many of the English birds. Several species in Great Britain,
their biographers tell us, sing the winter through, except during
the severest frosts; but with us, as far south as Virginia, and,
for aught I know, much farther, the birds are tuneless at this
season. The owls, even, do not hoot, nor the hawks scream.

Among the birds that tarry briefly with us in the spring on their
way to Canada and beyond, there is none I behold with so much
pleasure as the white-crowned sparrow. I have an eye out for him
all through April and the first week in May. He is the rarest and
most beautiful of the sparrow kind. He is crowned, as some hero or
victor in the games. He is usually in company with his congener,
the white-throated sparrow, but seldom more than in the proportion
of one to twenty of the latter. Contrasted with this bird, he looks
like its more fortunate brother, upon whom some special distinction
has been conferred, and who is, from the egg, of finer make and
quality. His sparrow color of ashen gray and brown is very clear
and bright, and his form graceful. His whole expression, however,
culminates in a singular manner in his crown. The various tints of
the bird are brought to a focus here and intensified, the lighter
ones becoming white, and the deeper ones nearly black. There is the
suggestion of a crest, also, from a habit the bird has of slightly
elevating this part of its plumage, as if to make more conspicuous
its pretty markings. They are great scratchers, and will often
remain several minutes scratching in one place, like a hen. Yet,
unlike the hen and like all hoppers, they scratch with both feet at
once, which is by no means the best way to scratch.

The white-throats often sing during their sojourning both in fall
and spring; but only on one occasion have I ever heard any part of
the song of the white-crowned, and that proceeded from what I took
to be a young male, one October morning, just as the sun was
rising. It was pitched very low, like a half-forgotten air, but it
was very sweet. It was the song of the vesper sparrow and the
white-throat in one. In his breeding haunts he must be a superior
songster, but he is very chary of his music while on his travels.

The sparrows are all meek and lowly birds. They are of the grass,
the fences, the low bushes, the weedy wayside places. Nature has
denied them all brilliant tints, but she has given them sweet and
musical voices. Theirs are the quaint and simple lullaby songs of
childhood. The white-throat has a timid, tremulous strain, that
issues from the low bushes or from behind the fence, where its
cradle is hid. The song sparrow modulates its simple ditty as
softly as the lining of its own nest. The vesper sparrow has only
peace and gentleness in its strain.

What pretty nests, too, the sparrows build! Can anything be more
exquisite than a sparrow's nest under a grassy or mossy bank? What
care the bird has taken not to disturb one straw or spear of grass,
or thread of moss! You cannot approach it and put your hand into it
without violating the place more or less, and yet the little
architect has wrought day after day and left no marks. There has
been an excavation, and yet no grain of earth appears to have been
moved. If the nest had slowly and silently grown like the grass and
the moss, it could not have been more nicely adjusted to its place
and surroundings. There is absolutely nothing to tell the eye it is
there. Generally a few spears of dry grass fall down from the turf
above and form a slight screen before it. How commonly and coarsely
it begins, blending with the debris that lies about, and how it
refines and comes into form as it approaches the centre, which is
modeled so perfectly and lined so softly! Then, when the full
complement of eggs is laid, and incubation has fairly begun, what a
sweet, pleasing little mystery the silent old bank holds!

The song sparrow, whose nest I have been describing, displays a
more marked individuality in its song than any bird with which I am
acquainted. Birds of the same species generally all sing alike, but
I have observed numerous song sparrows with songs peculiarly their
own. Last season, the whole summer through, one sang about my
grounds like this: _swee-e-t, swee-e-t, swee-e-t, bitter._ Day
after day, from May to September, I heard this strain, which I
thought a simple but very profound summing-up of life, and wondered
how the little bird had learned it so quickly. The present season,
I heard another with a song equally original, but not so easily
worded. Among a large troop of them in April, my attention was
attracted to one that was a master songster,--some Shelley or
Tennyson among his kind. The strain was remarkably prolonged,
intricate, and animated, and far surpassed anything I ever before
heard from that source.

But the most noticeable instance of departure from the standard
song of a species I ever knew of was in the case of a wood thrush.
The bird sang, as did the sparrow, the whole season through, at the
foot of my lot near the river. The song began correctly and ended
correctly; but interjected into it about midway was a loud,
piercing, artificial note, at utter variance with the rest of the
strain. When my ear first caught this singular note, I started out,
not a little puzzled, to make, as I supposed, a new acquaintance,
but had not gone far when I discovered whence it proceeded. Brass
amid gold, or pebbles amid pearls, are not more out of place than
was this discordant scream or cry in the melodious strain of the
wood thrush. It pained and startled the ear. It seemed as if the
instrument of the bird was not under control, or else that one note
was sadly out of tune, and, when its turn came, instead of giving
forth one of those sounds that are indeed like pearls, it shocked
the ear with a piercing discord. Yet the singer appeared entirely
unconscious of the defect; or had he grown used to it, or had his
friends persuaded him that it was a variation to be coveted?
Sometimes, after the brood had hatched and the bird's pride was at
its full, he would make a little triumphal tour of the locality,
coming from under the hill quite up to the house, and flaunting his
cracked instrument in the face of whoever would listen. He did not
return again the next season; or, if he did, the malformation of
his song was gone.

I have noticed that the bobolink does not sing the same in
different localities. In New Jersey it has one song; on the
Hudson, a slight variation of the same; and on the high grass-lands
of the interior of the State, quite a different strain,--clearer,
more distinctly articulated, and running off with more sparkle and
liltingness. It reminds one of the clearer mountain air and the
translucent spring-water of those localities. I never could make
out what the bobolink says in New Jersey, but in certain districts
in this State his enunciation is quite distinct. Sometimes he
begins with the word _gegue, gegue._ Then again, more fully, _be
true to me, Clarsy, be true to me, Clarsy, Clarsy,_ thence full
tilt into his inimitable song, interspersed in which the words
_kick your slipper, kick your slipper,_ and temperance, temperance
(the last with a peculiar nasal resonance), are plainly heard. At
its best, it is a remarkable performance, a unique performance, as
it contains not the slightest hint or suggestion, either in tone or
manner or effect, of any other bird-song to be heard. The bobolink
has no mate or parallel in any part of the world. He stands alone.
There is no closely allied species. He is not a lark, nor a finch,
nor a warbler, nor a thrush, nor a starling (though classed with
the starlings by late naturalists). He is an exception to many
well-known rules. He is the only ground-bird known to me of marked
and conspicuous plumage. He is the only black and white field-bird
we have east of the Mississippi, and, what is still more odd, he is
black beneath and white above,--the reverse of the fact in all
other cases. Preëminently a bird of the meadow during the breeding
season, and associated with clover and daisies and buttercups as no
other bird is, he yet has the look of an interloper or a newcomer,
and not of one to the manner born.

The bobolink has an unusually full throat, which may help account
for his great power of song. No bird has yet been found that could
imitate him, or even repeat or suggest a single note, as if his
song were the product of a new set of organs. There is a vibration
about it, and a rapid running over the keys, that is the despair of
other songsters. It is said that the mockingbird is dumb in the
presence of the bobolink. My neighbor has an English skylark that
was hatched and reared in captivity. The bird is a most persistent
and vociferous songster, and fully as successful a mimic as the
mockingbird. It pours out a strain that is a regular mosaic of
nearly all the bird-notes to be heard, its own proper lark song
forming a kind of bordering for the whole. The notes of the phoebe-
bird, the purple finch, the swallow, the yellowbird, the kingbird,
the robin, and others, are rendered with perfect distinctness and
accuracy, but not a word of the bobolink's, though the lark must
have heard its song every day for four successive summers. It was
the one conspicuous note in the fields around that the lark made no
attempt to plagiarize. He could not steal the bobolink's thunder.

The lark is a more marvelous songster than the bobolink only on
account of his soaring flight and the sustained copiousness of his
song. His note is rasping and harsh, in point of melody, when
compared with the bobolink's. When caged and near at hand, the
lark's song is positively disagreeable, it is so loud and full of
sharp, aspirated sounds. But high in air above the broad downs,
poured out without interruption for many minutes together, it is
very agreeable.

The bird among us that is usually called a lark, namely, the
meadowlark, but which our later classifiers say is no lark at all,
has nearly the same quality of voice as the English skylark,--loud,
piercing, z-z-ing; and during the mating season it frequently
indulges while on the wing in a brief song that is quite lark-like.
It is also a bird of the stubble, and one of the last to retreat on
the approach of winter.

The habits of many of our birds are slowly undergoing a change.
Their migrations are less marked. With the settlement and
cultivation of the country, the means of subsistence of nearly
every species are vastly increased. Insects are more numerous, and
seeds of weeds and grasses more abundant. They become more and more
domestic, like the English birds. The swallows have nearly all left
their original abodes--hollow trees, and cliffs, and rocks--for
human habitations and their environments. Where did the barn
swallow nest before the country was settled? The chimney swallow
nested in hollow trees, and, perhaps, occasionally resorts thither
yet. But the chimney, notwithstanding the smoke, seems to suit his
taste best. In the spring, before they have paired, I think these
swallows sometimes pass the night in the woods, but not if an old,
disused chimney is handy.

One evening in early May, my attention was arrested by a band of
them containing several hundreds, perhaps a thousand, circling
about near a large, tall, disused chimney in a secluded place in
the country. They were very lively, and chippering, and diving in a
most extraordinary manner. They formed a broad continuous circle
many rods in diameter. Gradually the circle contracted and neared
the chimney. Presently some of the birds as they came round began
to dive toward it, and the chippering was more animated than ever.
Then a few ventured in; in a moment more, the air at the mouth of
the chimney was black with the stream of descending swallows. When
the passage began to get crowded, the circle lifted and the rest of
the birds continued their flight, giving those inside time to
dispose of themselves. Then the influx began again, and was kept up
till the crowd became too great, when it cleared as before. Thus by
installments, or in layers, the swallows were packed into the
chimney until the last one was stowed away. Passing by the place a
few days afterward, I saw a board reaching from the roof of the
building to the top of the chimney, and imagined some curious
person or some predaceous boy had been up to take a peep inside,
and see how so many swallows could dispose of themselves in such a
space. It would have been an interesting spectacle to see them
emerge from the chimney in the morning.


If we represent the winter of our northern climate by a rugged
snow-clad mountain, and summer by a broad fertile plain, then the
intermediate belt, the hilly and breezy uplands, will stand for
spring, with March reaching well up into the region of the snows,
and April lapping well down upon the greening fields and unloosened
currents, not beyond the limits of winter's sallying storms, but
well within the vernal zone,--within the reach of the warm breath
and subtle, quickening influences of the plain below. At its best,
April is the tenderest of tender salads made crisp by ice or snow
water. Its type is the first spear of grass. The senses--sight,
hearing, smell--are as hungry for its delicate and almost spiritual
tokens as the cattle are for the first bite of its fields. How it
touches one and makes him both glad and sad! The voices of the
arriving birds, the migrating fowls, the clouds of pigeons sweeping
across the sky or filling the woods, the elfin horn of the first
honey-bee venturing abroad in the middle of the day, the clear
piping of the little frogs in the marshes at sundown, the campfire
in the sugar-bush, the smoke seen afar rising over the trees, the
tinge of green that comes so suddenly on the sunny knolls and
slopes, the full translucent streams, the waxing and warming sun,--
how these things and others like them are noted by the eager eye
and ear! April is my natal month, and I am born again into new
delight and new surprises at each return of it. Its name has an
indescribable charm to me. Its two syllables are like the calls of
the first birds,--like that of the phoebe-bird, or of the
meadowlark. Its very snows are fertilizing, and are called the poor
man's manure.

Then its odors! I am thrilled by its fresh and indescribable
odors,--the perfume of the bursting sod, of the quickened roots and
rootlets, of the mould under the leaves, of the fresh furrows. No
other month has odors like it. The west wind the other day came
fraught with a perfume that was to the sense of smell what a wild
and delicate strain of music is to the ear. It was almost
transcendental. I walked across the hill with my nose in the air
taking it in. It lasted for two days. I imagined it came from the
willows of a distant swamp, whose catkins were affording the bees
their first pollen: or did it come from much farther,--from beyond
the horizon, the accumulated breath of innumerable farms and
budding forests? The main characteristic of these April odors is
their uncloying freshness. They are not sweet, they are oftener
bitter, they are penetrating and lyrical. I know well the odors of
May and June, of the world of meadows and orchards bursting into
bloom, but they are not so ineffable and immaterial and so
stimulating to the sense as the incense of April.

The season of which I speak does not correspond with the April of
the almanac in all sections of our vast geography. It answers to
March in Virginia and Maryland, while in parts of New York and New
England it laps well over into May. It begins when the partridge
drums, when the hyla pipes, when the shad start up the rivers, when
the grass greens in the spring runs, and it ends when the leaves
are unfolding and the last snowflake dissolves in midair. It may be
the first of May before the first swallow appears, before the whip-
poor-will is heard, before the wood thrush sings; but it is April
as long as there is snow upon the mountains, no matter what the
almanac may say. Our April is, in fact, a kind of Alpine summer,
full of such contrasts and touches of wild, delicate beauty as no
other season affords. The deluded citizen fancies there is nothing
enjoyable in the country till June, and so misses the freshest,
tenderest part. It is as if one should miss strawberries and begin
his fruit-eating with melons and peaches. These last are good,--
supremely so, they are melting and luscious,--but nothing so
thrills and penetrates the taste, and wakes up and teases the
papillae of the tongue, as the uncloying strawberry. What midsummer
sweetness half so distracting as its brisk sub-acid flavor, and
what splendor of full-leaved June can stir the blood like the best
of leafless April?

One characteristic April feature, and one that delights me very
much, is the perfect emerald of the spring runs while the fields
are yet brown and sere,--strips and patches of the most vivid
velvet green on the slopes and in the valleys. How the eye grazes
there, and is filled and refreshed! I had forgotten what a marked
feature this was until I recently rode in an open wagon for three
days through a mountainous, pastoral country, remarkable for its
fine springs. Those delicious green patches are yet in my eye. The
fountains flowed with May. Where no springs occurred, there were
hints and suggestions of springs about the fields and by the
roadside in the freshened grass,--sometimes overflowing a space in
the form of an actual fountain. The water did not quite get to the
surface in such places, but sent its influence.

The fields of wheat and rye, too, how they stand out of the April
landscape,--great green squares on a field of brown or gray!

Among April sounds there is none more welcome or suggestive to me
than the voice of the little frogs piping in the marshes. No bird-
note can surpass it as a spring token; and as it is not mentioned,
to my knowledge, by the poets and writers of other lands, I am
ready to believe it is characteristic of our season alone. You may
be sure April has really come when this little amphibian creeps out
of the mud and inflates its throat. We talk of the bird inflating
its throat, but you should see this tiny minstrel inflate _its_
throat, which becomes like a large bubble, and suggests a drummer-
boy with his drum slung very high. In this drum, or by the aid of
it, the sound is produced. Generally the note is very feeble at
first, as if the frost was not yet all out of the creature's
throat, and only one voice will be heard, some prophet bolder than
all the rest, or upon whom the quickening ray of spring has first
fallen. And it often happens that he is stoned for his pains by the
yet unpacified element, and is compelled literally to "shut up"
beneath a fall of snow or a heavy frost. Soon, however, he lifts up
his voice again with more confidence, and is joined by others and
still others, till in due time, say toward the last of the month,
there is a shrill musical uproar, as the sun is setting, in every
marsh and bog in the land. It is a plaintive sound, and I have
heard people from the city speak of it as lonesome and depressing,
but to the lover of the country it is a pure spring melody. The
little piper will sometimes climb a bulrush, to which he clings
like a sailor to a mast, and send forth his shrill call. There is a
Southern species, heard when you have reached the Potomac, whose
note is far more harsh and crackling. To stand on the verge of a
swamp vocal with these, pains and stuns the ear. The call of the
Northern species is far more tender and musical. [Footnote: The
Southern species is called the green hyla. I have since heard them
in my neighborhood on the Hudson.]

Then is there anything like a perfect April morning? One hardly
knows what the sentiment of it is, but it is something very
delicious. It is youth and hope. It is a new earth and a new sky.
How the air transmits sounds, and what an awakening, prophetic
character all sounds have! The distant barking of a dog, or the
lowing of a cow, or the crowing of a cock, seems from out the heart
of Nature, and to be a call to come forth. The great sun appears to
have been reburnished, and there is something in his first glance
above the eastern hills, and the way his eye-beams dart right and
left and smite the rugged mountains into gold, that quickens the
pulse and inspires the heart.

Across the fields in the early morning I hear some of the rare
April birds,--the chewink and the brown thrasher. The robin, the
bluebird, the song sparrow, the phoebe-bird, come in March; but
these two ground-birds are seldom heard till toward the last of
April. The ground-birds are all tree-singers or air-singers; they
must have an elevated stage to speak from. Our long-tailed thrush,
or thrasher, like its congeners the catbird and the mockingbird,
delights in a high branch of some solitary tree, whence it will
pour out its rich and intricate warble for an hour together. This
bird is the great American chipper. There is no other bird that I
know of that can chip with such emphasis and military decision as
this yellow-eyed songster. It is like the click of a giant gunlock.
Why is the thrasher so stealthy? It always seems to be going about
on tiptoe. I never knew it to steal anything, and yet it skulks and
hides like a fugitive from justice. One never sees it flying aloft
in the air and traversing the world openly, like most birds, but it
darts along fences and through bushes as if pursued by a guilty
conscience. Only when the musical fit is upon it does it come up
into full view, and invite the world to hear and behold.

The chewink is a shy bird also, but not stealthy. It is very
inquisitive, and sets up a great scratching among the leaves,
apparently to attract your attention. The male is perhaps the most
conspicuously marked of all the ground-birds except the bobolink,
being black above, bay on the sides, and white beneath. The bay is
in compliment to the leaves he is forever scratching among,--they
have rustled against his breast and sides so long that these parts
have taken their color; but whence come the white and the black?
The bird seems to be aware that his color betrays him, for there
are few birds in the woods so careful about keeping themselves
screened from view. When in song, its favorite perch is the top of
some high bush near to cover. On being disturbed at such times, it
pitches down into the brush and is instantly lost to view.

This is the bird that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Wilson about,
greatly exciting the latter's curiosity. Wilson was just then upon
the threshold of his career as an ornithologist, and had made a
drawing of the Canada jay which he sent to the President. It was a
new bird, and in reply Jefferson called his attention to a "curious
bird" which was everywhere to be heard, but scarcely ever to be
seen. He had for twenty years interested the young sportsmen of his
neighborhood to shoot one for him, but without success. "It is in
all the forests, from spring to fall," he says in his letter, "and
never but on the tops of the tallest trees, from which it
perpetually serenades us with some of the sweetest notes, and as
clear as those of the nightingale. I have followed it for miles,
without ever but once getting a good view of it. It is of the size
and make of the mockingbird, lightly thrush-colored on the back,
and a grayish white on the breast and belly. Mr. Randolph, my son-
in-law, was in possession of one which had been shot by a
neighbor," etc. Randolph pronounced it a flycatcher, which was a
good way wide of the mark. Jefferson must have seen only the
female, after all his tramp, from his description of the color; but
he was doubtless following his own great thoughts more than the
bird, else he would have had an earlier view. The bird was not a
new one, but was well known then as the ground-robin. The President
put Wilson on the wrong scent by his erroneous description, and it
was a long time before the latter got at the truth of the case. But
Jefferson's letter is a good sample of those which specialists
often receive from intelligent persons who have seen or heard
something in their line very curious or entirely new, and who set
the man of science agog by a description of the supposed novelty,--
a description that generally fits the facts of the case about as
well as your coat fits the chair-back. Strange and curious things
in the air, and in the water, and in the earth beneath, are seen
every day except by those who are looking for them, namely, the
naturalists. When Wilson or Audubon gets his eye on the unknown
bird, the illusion vanishes, and your phenomenon turns out to be
one of the commonplaces of the fields or woods.

A prominent April bird, that one does not have to go to the woods
or away from his own door to see and hear, is the hardy and ever-
welcome meadowlark. What a twang there is about this bird, and what
vigor! It smacks of the soil. It is the winged embodiment of the
spirit of our spring meadows. What emphasis in its _"z-d-t, z-d-t"_
and what character in its long, piercing note! Its straight,
tapering, sharp beak is typical of its voice. Its note goes like a
shaft from a crossbow; it is a little too sharp and piercing when
near at hand, but, heard in the proper perspective, it is eminently
melodious and pleasing. It is one of the major notes of the fields
at this season. In fact, it easily dominates all others. _"Spring
o' the year! spring o' the year!"_ it says, with a long-drawn
breath, a little plaintive, but not complaining or melancholy. At
times it indulges in something much more intricate and lark-like
while hovering on the wing in midair, but a song is beyond the
compass of its instrument, and the attempt usually ends in a
breakdown. A clear, sweet, strong, high-keyed note, uttered from
some knoll or rock, or stake in the fence, is its proper vocal
performance. It has the build and walk and flight of the quail and
the grouse. It gets up before you in much the same manner, and
falls an easy prey to the crack shot. Its yellow breast, surmounted
by a black crescent, it need not be ashamed to turn to the morning
sun, while its coat of mottled gray is in perfect keeping with the
stubble amid which it walks. The two lateral white quills in its
tail seem strictly in character. These quills spring from a dash
of scorn and defiance in the bird's make-up. By the aid of these,
it can almost emit a flash as it struts about the fields and jerks
out its sharp notes. They give a rayed, a definite and piquant
expression to its movements. This bird is not properly a lark, but
a starling, say the ornithologists, though it is lark-like in its
habits, being a walker and entirely a ground-bird. Its color also
allies it to the true lark. I believe there is no bird in the
English or European fields that answers to this hardy pedestrian of
our meadows. He is a true American, and his note one of our
characteristic April sounds.

Another marked April note, proceeding sometimes from the meadows,
but more frequently from the rough pastures and borders of the
woods, is the call of the high-hole, or golden-shafted woodpecker.
It is quite as strong as that of the meadowlark, but not so long-
drawn and piercing. It is a succession of short notes rapidly
uttered, as if the bird said _"if-if-if-if-if-if-if."_ The notes
of the ordinary downy and hairy woodpeckers suggest, in some way.
the sound of a steel punch; but that of the high-hole is much
softer, and strikes on the ear with real springtime melody. The
high-hole is not so much a wood-pecker as he is a ground-pecker. He
subsists largely on ants and crickets, and does not appear till
they are to be found.

In Solomon's description of spring, the voice of the turtle is
prominent, but our turtle, or mourning dove, though it arrives in
April, can hardly be said to contribute noticeably to the open-air
sounds. Its call is so vague, and soft, and mournful,--in fact, so
remote and diffused,--that few persons ever hear it at all.

Such songsters as the cow blackbird are noticeable at this season,
though they take a back seat a little later. It utters a peculiarly
liquid April sound. Indeed, one would think its crop was full of
water, its notes so bubble up and regurgitate, and are delivered
with such an apparent stomachic contraction. This bird is the only
feathered polygamist we have. The females are greatly in excess of
the males, and the latter are usually attended by three or four of
the former. As soon as the other birds begin to build, they are on
the _qui vive,_ prowling about like gypsies, not to steal the young
of others, but to steal their eggs into other birds' nests, and so
shirk the labor and responsibility of hatching and rearing their
own young. As these birds do not mate, and as therefore there can
be little or no rivalry or competition between the males, one
wonders--in view of Darwin's teaching--why one sex should have
brighter and richer plumage than the other, which is the fact. The
males are easily distinguished from the dull and faded females by
their deep glossy-black coats.

The April of English literature corresponds nearly to our May. In
Great Britain, the swallow and the cuckoo usually arrive by the
middle of April; with us, their appearance is a week or two later.
Our April, at its best, is a bright, laughing face under a hood of
snow, like the English March, but presenting sharper contrasts, a
greater mixture of smiles and tears and icy looks than are known to
our ancestral climate. Indeed, Winter sometimes retraces his steps
in this month, and unburdens himself of the snows that the previous
cold has kept back; but we are always sure of a number of radiant,
equable days,--days that go before the bud, when the sun embraces
the earth with fervor and determination. How his beams pour into
the woods till the mould under the leaves is warm and emits an
odor! The waters glint and sparkle, the birds gather in groups, and
even those unused to singing find a voice. On the streets of the
cities, what a flutter, what bright looks and gay colors! I recall
one preëminent day of this kind last April. I made a note of it in
my note-book. The earth seemed suddenly to emerge from a wilderness
of clouds and chilliness into one of these blue sunlit spaces. How
the voyagers rejoiced! Invalids came forth, old men sauntered down
the street, stocks went up, and the political outlook brightened.

Such days bring out the last of the hibernating animals. The
woodchuck unrolls and creeps out of his den to see if his clover
has started yet. The torpidity leaves the snakes and the turtles,
and they come forth and bask in the sun. There is nothing so small,
nothing so great, that it does not respond to these celestial
spring days, and give the pendulum of life a fresh start.

April is also the month of the new furrow. As soon as the frost is
gone and the ground settled, the plow is started upon the hill, and
at each bout I see its brightened mould-board flash in the sun.
Where the last remnants of the snowdrift lingered yesterday the
plow breaks the sod to-day. Where the drift was deepest the grass
is pressed flat, and there is a deposit of sand and earth blown
from the fields to windward. Line upon line the turf is reversed,
until there stands out of the neutral landscape a ruddy square
visible for miles, or until the breasts of the broad hills glow
like the breasts of the robins.

Then who would not have a garden in April? to rake together the
rubbish and burn it up, to turn over the renewed soil, to scatter
the rich compost, to plant the first seed, or bury the first tuber!
It is not the seed that is planted, any more than it is I that is
planted; it is not the dry stalks and weeds that are burned up, any
more than it is my gloom and regrets that are consumed. An April
smoke makes a clean harvest.

I think April is the best month to be born in. One is just in time,
so to speak, to catch the first train, which is made up in this
month. My April chickens always turn out best. They get an early
start; they have rugged constitutions. Late chickens cannot stand
the heavy dews, or withstand the predaceous hawks. In April all
nature starts with you. You have not come out of your hibernaculum
too early or too late; the time is ripe, and, if you do not keep
pace with the rest, why, the fault is not in the season.


There is no month oftener on the tongues of the poets than April.
It is the initiative month; it opens the door of the seasons; the
interest and expectations of the untried, the untasted, lurk in it,

"From you have I been absent in the spring,"

says Shakespeare in one of his sonnets,--

"When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him."

The following poem, from Tennyson's "In Memoriam," might be headed
"April," and serve as descriptive of parts of our season:--

"Now fades the last long streak of snow,
Now bourgeons every maze of quick
About the flowering squares, and thick
By ashen roots the violets blow.

"Now rings the woodland loud and long,
The distance takes a lovelier hue,
And drowned in yonder living blue
The lark becomes a sightless song.

"Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
The flocks are whiter down the vale,
And milkier every milky sail
On winding stream or distant sea;

"Where now the sea-mew pipes, or dives
In yonder greening gleam, and fly
The happy birds, that change their sky
To build and brood; that live their lives

"From land to land; and in my breast
Spring wakens too; and my regret
Becomes an April violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest."

In the same poem the poet asks:--

"Can trouble live with April days?"

Yet they are not all jubilant chords that this season awakens.
Occasionally there is an undertone of vague longing and sadness,
akin to that which one experiences in autumn. Hope for a moment
assumes the attitude of memory and stands with reverted look. The
haze, that in spring as well as in fall sometimes descends and
envelops all things, has in it in some way the sentiment of music,
of melody, and awakens pensive thoughts. Elizabeth Akers, in her
"April," has recognized and fully expressed this feeling. I give
the first and last stanzas:--

"The strange, sweet days are here again,
The happy-mournful days;
The songs which trembled on our lips
Are half complaint, half praise.

"Swing, robin, on the budded sprays,
And sing your blithest tune;--
Help us across these homesick days
Into the joy of June!"

This poet has also given a touch of spring in her "March," which,
however, should be written "April" in the New England climate:--

"The brown buds thicken on the trees,
Unbound, the free streams sing,
As March leads forth across the leas
The wild and windy spring.

"Where in the fields the melted snow
Leaves hollows warm and wet,
Ere many days will sweetly blow
The first blue violet."

But on the whole the poets have not been eminently successful in
depicting spring. The humid season, with its tender, melting blue
sky, its fresh, earthy smells, its new furrow, its few simple signs
and awakenings here and there, and its strange feeling of unrest,--
how difficult to put its charms into words! None of the so-called
pastoral poets have succeeded in doing it. That is the best part of
spring which escapes a direct and matter-of-fact description of
her. There is more of spring in a line or two of Chaucer and
Spenser than in the elaborate portraits of her by Thomson or Pope,
because the former had spring in their hearts, and the latter only
in their inkhorns. Nearly all Shakespeare's songs are spring
songs,--full of the banter, the frolic, and the love-making of the
early season. What an unloosed current, too, of joy and fresh new
life and appetite in Burns!

In spring everything has such a margin! there are such spaces of
silence! The influences are at work underground. Our delight is in
a few things. The drying road is enough; a single wild flower, the
note of the first bird, the partridge drumming in the April woods,
the restless herds, the sheep steering for the uplands, the cow
lowing in the highway or hiding her calf in the bushes, the first
fires, the smoke going up through the shining atmosphere, from the
burning of rubbish in gardens and old fields,--each of these simple
things fills the breast with yearning and delight, for they are
tokens of the spring. The best spring poems have this singleness
and sparseness. Listen to Solomon: "For lo, the winter is past, the
rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of
the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard
in the land." In Wordsworth are some things that breathe the air of
spring. These lines, written in early spring, afford a good

"I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind."

"To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

"Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 't is my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

"The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure."

Or these from another poem, written in his usual study, "Out-of-
Doors," and addressed to his sister:--

"It is the first mild day of March,
Each minute sweeter than before;
The redbreast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside the door.

"There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.

. . . . . . . . .

"Love, now a universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth;
It is the hour of feeling.

"One moment now may give us more
Than years of toiling reason:
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season."

It is the simplicity of such lines, like the naked branches of the
trees or the unclothed fields, and the spring-like depth of feeling
and suggestion they hold, that make them so appropriate to this

At this season I often find myself repeating these lines of his

"My heart leaps up, when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it, when my life began;
So is it, now I am a man;
So be it, when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!"

Though there are so few good poems especially commemorative of the
spring, there have no doubt been spring poets,--poets with such
newness and fullness of life, and such quickening power, that the
world is re-created, as it were, beneath their touch. Of course
this is in a measure so with all real poets. But the difference I
would indicate may exist between poets of the same or nearly the
same magnitude. Thus, in this light Tennyson is an autumnal poet,
mellow and dead-ripe, and was so from the first; while Wordsworth
has much more of the spring in him, is nearer the bone of things
and to primitive conditions.

Among the old poems, one which seems to me to have much of the
charm of springtime upon it is the story of Cupid and Psyche in
Apuleius. The songs, gambols, and wooings of the early birds are
not more welcome and suggestive. How graceful and airy, and yet
what a tender, profound, human significance it contains! But the
great vernal poem, doubly so in that it is the expression of the
springtime of the race, the boyhood of man as well, is the Iliad of
Homer. What faith, what simple wonder, what unconscious strength,
what beautiful savagery, what magnanimous enmity,--a very paradise
of war!

Though so young a people, there is not much of the feeling of
spring in any of our books. The muse of our poets is wise rather
than joyous. There is no excess or extravagance or unruliness in
her. There are spring sounds and tokens in Emerson's "May-Day:"--

"April cold with dropping rain
Willows and lilacs brings again,
The whistle of returning birds,
And trumpet-lowing of the herds.
The scarlet maple-keys betray
What potent blood hath modest May,
What fiery force the earth renews,
The wealth of forms, the flush of hues;
What joy in rosy waves outpoured
Flows from the heart of Love, the Lord."

But this is not spring in the blood. Among the works of our young
and rising poets, I am not certain but that Mr. Gilder's "New Day"
is entitled to rank as a spring poem in the sense in which I am
speaking. It is full of gayety and daring, and full of the reckless
abandon of the male bird when he is winning his mate. It is full
also of the tantalizing suggestiveness, the half-lights and shades,
of April and May.

Of prose poets who have the charm of the springtime upon them, the
best recent example I know of is Björnson, the Norwegian romancist.
What especially makes his books spring-like is their freshness and
sweet good faith. There is also a reticence and an unwrought
suggestiveness about them that is like the promise of buds and
early flowers. Of Turgenieff, the Russian, much the same thing
might be said. His stories are simple and elementary, and have none
of the elaborate hair-splitting and forced hot-house character of
the current English or American novel. They spring from stronger,
more healthful and manly conditions, and have a force in them that
is like a rising, incoming tide.


I wonder that Wilson Flagg did not include the cow among his
"Picturesque Animals," for that is where she belongs. She has not
the classic beauty of the horse, but in picture-making qualities
she is far ahead of him. Her shaggy, loose-jointed body; her
irregular, sketchy outlines, like those of the landscape,--the
hollows and ridges, the slopes and prominences; her tossing horns,
her bushy tail, tier swinging gait, her tranquil, ruminating
habits,--all tend to make her an object upon which the artist eye
loves to dwell. The artists are forever putting her into pictures,
too. In rural landscape scenes she is an important feature. Behold
her grazing in the pastures and on the hillsides, or along banks of
streams, or ruminating under wide-spreading trees, or standing
belly-deep in the creek or pond, or lying upon the smooth places in
the quiet summer afternoon, the day's grazing done, and waiting to
be summoned home to be milked; and again in the twilight lying upon
the level summit of the hill, or where the sward is thickest and
softest; or in winter a herd of them filing along toward the spring
to drink, or being "foddered" from the stack in the field upon the
new snow,--surely the cow is a picturesque animal, and all her
goings and comings are pleasant to behold.

I looked into Hamerton's clever book on the domestic animals also,
expecting to find my divinity duly celebrated, but he passes her by
and contemplates the bovine qualities only as they appear in the ox
and the bull.

Neither have the poets made much of the cow, but have rather dwelt
upon the steer, or the ox yoked to the plow. I recall this touch
from Emerson:--

"The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far heard, lows not thine ear to charm."

But the ear is charmed, nevertheless, especially if it be not too
near, and the air be still and dense, or hollow, as the farmer
says. And again, if it be springtime and she task that powerful
bellows of hers to its utmost capacity, how round the sound is, and
how far it goes over the hills!

The cow has at least four tones or lows. First, there is her
alarmed or distressed low when deprived of her calf, or when
separated from her mates,--her low of affection. Then there is her
call of hunger, a petition for food, sometimes full of impatience,
or her answer to the farmer's call, full of eagerness. Then there
is that peculiar frenzied bawl she utters on smelling blood, which
causes every member of the herd to lift its head and hasten to the
spot,--the native cry of the clan. When she is gored or in great
danger she bawls also, but that is different. And lastly, there is
the long, sonorous volley she lets off on the hills or in the yard,
or along the highway, and which seems to be expressive of a kind of
unrest and vague longing,--the longing of the imprisoned Io for her
lost identity. She sends her voice forth so that every god on Mount
Olympus can hear her plaint. She makes this sound in the morning,
especially in the spring, as she goes forth to graze.

One of our rural poets, Myron Benton, whose verse often has the
flavor of sweet cream, has written some lines called "Rumination,"
in which the cow is the principal figure, and with which I am
permitted to adorn my theme. The poet first gives his attention to
a little brook that "breaks its shallow gossip" at his feet and
"drowns the oriole's voice:"--

"But moveth not that wise and ancient cow,
Who chews her juicy cud so languid now
Beneath her favorite elm, whose drooping bough
Lulls all but inward vision fast asleep:
But still, her tireless tail a pendulum sweep
Mysterious clock-work guides, and some hid pulley
Her drowsy cud, each moment, raises duly.

"Of this great, wondrous world she has seen more
Than you, my little brook, and cropped its store
Of succulent grass on many a mead and lawn;
And strayed to distant uplands in the dawn.
And she has had some dark experience
Of graceless man's ingratitude; and hence
Her ways have not been ways of pleasantness,
Nor all her paths of peace. But her distress
And grief she has lived past; your giddy round
Disturbs her not, for she is learned profound
In deep brahminical philosophy.
She chews the cud of sweetest revery
Above your worldly prattle, brooklet merry,
Oblivious of all things sublunary."

The cow figures in Grecian mythology, and in the Oriental
literature is treated as a sacred animal. "The clouds are cows and
the rain milk." I remember what Herodotus says of the Egyptians'
worship of heifers and steers; and in the traditions of the Celtic
nations the cow is regarded as a divinity. In Norse mythology the
milk of the cow Andhumbla afforded nourishment to the Frost giants,
and it was she that licked into being and into shape a god, the
father of Odin. If anything could lick a god into shape, certainly
the cow could do it. You may see her perform this office for young
Taurus any spring. She licks him out of the fogs and bewilderments
and uncertainties in which he finds himself on first landing upon
these shores, and up onto his feet in an incredibly short time.
Indeed, that potent tongue of hers can almost make the dead alive
any day, and the creative lick of the old Scandinavian mother cow
is only a large-lettered rendering of the commonest facts.

The horse belongs to the fiery god Mars. He favors war, and is one
of its oldest, most available, and most formidable engines. The
steed is clothed with thunder, and smells the battle from afar; but
the cattle upon a thousand hills denote that peace and plenty bear
sway in the land. The neighing of the horse is a call to battle;
but the lowing of old Brockleface in the valley brings the golden
age again. The savage tribes are never without the horse; the
Scythians are all mounted; but the cow would tame and humanize
them. When the Indians will cultivate the cow, I shall think their
civilization fairly begun. Recently, when the horses were sick with
the epizoötic, and the oxen came to the city and helped to do their
work, what an Arcadian air again filled the streets! But the dear
old oxen,--how awkward and distressed they looked! Juno wept in the
face of every one of them. The horse is a true citizen, and is
entirely at home in the paved streets; but the ox,--what a complete
embodiment of all rustic and rural things! Slow, deliberate, thick-
skinned, powerful, hulky, ruminating, fragrant-breathed, when he
came to town the spirit and suggestion of all Georgics and Bucolics
came with him. O citizen, was it only a plodding, unsightly brute
that went by? Was there no chord in your bosom, long silent, that
sweetly vibrated at the sight of that patient, Herculean couple?
Did you smell no hay or cropped herbage, see no summer pastures
with circles of cool shade, hear no voice of herds among the hills?
They were very likely the only horses your grandfather ever had.
Not much trouble to harness and unharness them. Not much vanity on
the road in those days. They did all the work on the early pioneer
farm. They were the gods whose rude strength first broke the soil.
They could live where the moose and the deer could. If there was no
clover or timothy to be had, then the twigs of the basswood and
birch would do. Before there were yet fields given up to grass,
they found ample pasturage in the woods. Their wide-spreading horns
gleamed in the duskiness, and their paths and the paths of the cows
became the future roads and highways, or even the streets of great

All the descendants of Odin show a bovine trace, and cherish and
cultivate the cow. In Norway she is a great feature. Professor
Boyesen describes what he calls the _saeter_, the spring migration
of the dairy and dairymaids, with all the appurtenances of butter
and cheese making, from the valleys to the distant plains upon the
mountains, where the grass keeps fresh and tender till fall. It is
the great event of the year in all the rural districts. Nearly the
whole family go with the cattle and remain with them. At evening
the cows are summoned home with a long horn, called the _loor,_ in
the hands of the milkmaid. The whole herd comes winding down the
mountain-side toward the _saeter_ in obedience to the mellow blast.

What were those old Vikings but thick-hided bulls that delighted in
nothing so much as goring each other? And has not the charge of
beefiness been brought much nearer home to us than that? But about
all the northern races there is something that is kindred to cattle
in the best sense,--something in their art and literature that is
essentially pastoral, sweet-breathed, continent, dispassionate,
ruminating, wide-eyed, soft-voiced,--a charm of kine, the virtue of

The cow belongs more especially to the northern peoples, to the
region of the good, green grass. She is the true _grazing_ animal.
That broad, smooth, always dewy nose of hers is just the suggestion
of greensward. She caresses the grass; she sweeps off the ends of
the leaves; she reaps it with the soft sickle of her tongue. She
crops close, but she does not bruise or devour the turf like the
horse. She is the sward's best friend, and will make it thick and
smooth as a carpet.

"The turfy mountains where live the nibbling sheep"

are not for her. Her muzzle is too blunt; then she does not _bite_
as do the sheep; she has no upper teeth; she _crops._ But on the
lower slopes, and margins, and rich bottoms, she is at home. Where
the daisy and the buttercup and clover bloom, and where corn will
grow, is her proper domain. The agriculture of no country can long
thrive without her. Not only a large part of the real, but much of
the potential, wealth of the land is wrapped up in her.

Then the cow has given us some good words and hints. How could we
get along without the parable of the cow that gave a good pail of
milk and then kicked it over? One could hardly keep house without
it. Or the parable of the cream and the skimmed milk, or of the
buttered bread? We know, too, through her aid, what the horns of
the dilemma mean, and what comfort there is in the juicy cud of

I have said the cow has not been of much service to the poets, and
yet I remember that Jean Ingelow could hardly have managed her
"High Tide" without "Whitefoot" and "Lightfoot" and "Cusha! Cusha!
Cusha! calling;" or Trowbridge his "Evening at the Farm," in which
the real call of the American farm-boy of "Co', boss! Co', boss!
Co', Co'," makes a very musical refrain.

Tennyson's charming "Milking Song" is another flower of poesy that
has sprung up in my divinity's footsteps.

What a variety of individualities a herd of cows presents when you
have come to know them all, not only in form and color, but in
manners and disposition! Some are timid and awkward, and the butt
of the whole herd. Some remind you of deer. Some have an expression
in the face like certain persons you have known. A petted and well-
fed cow has a benevolent and gracious look; an ill-used and poorly
fed one, a pitiful and forlorn look. Some cows have a masculine or
ox expression; others are extremely feminine. The latter are the
ones for milk. Some cows will kick like a horse; some jump fences
like deer. Every herd has its ringleader, its unruly spirit,--one
that plans all the mischief, and leads the rest through the fences
into the grain or into the orchard. This one is usually quite
different from the master spirit, the "boss of the yard." The
latter is generally the most peaceful and law-abiding cow in the
lot, and the least bullying and quarrelsome. But she is not to be
trifled with; her will is law; the whole herd give way before her,
those that have crossed horns with her and those that have not, but
yielded their allegiance without crossing. I remember such a one
among my father's milkers when I was a boy,--a slender-horned,
deep-shouldered, large-uddered, dewlapped old cow that we always
put first in the long stable, so she could not have a cow on each
side of her to forage upon; for the master is yielded to no less in
the stanchions than in the yard. She always had the first place
anywhere. She had her choice of standing-room in the milking-yard,
and when she wanted to lie down there or in the fields the best and
softest spot was hers. When the herd were foddered from the stack
or barn, or fed with pumpkins in the fall, she was always first
served. Her demeanor was quiet but impressive. She never bullied or
gored her mates, but literally ruled them with the breath of her
nostrils. If any new-comer or ambitious younger cow, however,
chafed under her supremacy, she was ever ready to make good her
claims. And with what spirit she would fight when openly
challenged! She was a whirlwind of pluck and valor; and not after
one defeat or two defeats would she yield the championship. The
boss cow, when overcome, seems to brood over her disgrace, and day
after day will meet her rival in fierce combat.

A friend of mine, a pastoral philosopher, whom I have consulted in
regard to the master cow, thinks it is seldom the case that one
rules all the herd, if it number many, but that there is often one
that will rule nearly all. "Curiously enough," he says, "a case
like this will often occur: No. 1 will whip No. 2; No. 2 whips No.
3; and No. 3 whips No. 1; so around in a circle. This is not a
mistake; it is often the case. I remember," he continued, "we once
had feeding out of a large bin in the centre of the yard six cows
who mastered right through in succession from No. 1 to No. 6;
_but_ No. 6 _paid off the score by whipping No. 1._ I often watched
them when they were all trying to feed out of the box, and of
course trying, dog-in-the-manger fashion, each to prevent any other
she could. They would often get in the order to do it very
systematically, since they could keep rotating about the box till
the chain happened to get broken somewhere, when there would be
confusion. Their mastership, you know, like that between nations,
is constantly changing. There are always Napoleons who hold their
own through many vicissitudes; but the ordinary cow is continually
liable to lose her foothold. Some cow she has always despised, and
has often sent tossing across the yard at her horns' ends, some
pleasant morning will return the compliment and pay off old

But my own observation has been that, in herds in which there have
been no important changes for several years, the question of might
gets pretty well settled, and some one cow becomes the acknowledged

The bully of the yard is never the master, but usually a second or
third rate pusher that never loses an opportunity to hook those
beneath her, or to gore the masters if she can get them in a tight
place. If such a one can get loose in the stable, she is quite
certain to do mischief. She delights to pause in the open bars and
turn and keep those behind her at bay till she sees a pair of
threatening horns pressing toward her, when she quickly passes on.
As one cow masters all, so there is one cow that is mastered by
all. These are the two extremes of the herd, the head and the tail.
Between them are all grades of authority, with none so poor but
hath some poorer to do her reverence.

The cow has evidently come down to us from a wild or semi-wild
state; perhaps is a descendant of those wild, shaggy cattle of
which a small band is still preserved in some nobleman's park in
Scotland. Cuvier seems to have been of this opinion. One of the
ways in which her wild instincts still crop out is the disposition
she shows in spring to hide her calf,--a common practice among the
wild herds. Her wild nature would be likely to come to the surface
at this crisis if ever; and I have known cows that practiced great
secrecy in dropping their calves. As their time approached, they
grew restless, a wild and excited look was upon them; and if left
free, they generally set out for the woods, or for some other
secluded spot. After the calf is several hours old, and has got
upon its feet and had its first meal, the dam by some sign commands
it to lie down and remain quiet while she goes forth to feed. If
the calf is approached at such time, it plays "possum," pretends to
be dead or asleep, till, on finding this ruse does not succeed, it
mounts to its feet, bleats loudly and fiercely, and charges
desperately upon the intruder. But it recovers from this wild scare
in a little while, and never shows signs of it again.

The habit of the cow, also, in eating the placenta, looks to me
like a vestige of her former wild instincts,--the instinct to
remove everything that would give the wild beasts a clew or a
scent, and so attract them to her helpless young.

How wise and sagacious the cows become that run upon the street, or
pick their living along the highway! The mystery of gates and bars
is at last solved to them. They ponder over them by night, they
lurk about them by day, till they acquire a new sense,--till they
become _en rapport_ with them and know when they are open and
unguarded. The garden gate, if it open into the highway at any
point, is never out of the mind of these roadsters, or out of their
calculations. They calculate upon the chances of its being left
open a certain number of times in the season; and if it be but
once, and only for five minutes, your cabbage and sweet corn
suffer. What villager, or countryman either, has not been awakened
at night by the squeaking and crunching of those piratical jaws
under the window, or in the direction of the vegetable patch? I
have had the cows, after they had eaten up my garden, break into
the stable where my own milcher was tied, and gore her and devour
her meal. Yes, life presents but one absorbing problem to the
street cow, and that is how to get into your garden. She catches
glimpses of it over the fence or through the pickets, and her
imagination or her epigastrium is inflamed. When the spot is
surrounded by a high board fence, I think I have seen her peeping
at the cabbages through a knothole. At last she learns to open the
gate. It is a great triumph of bovine wit. She does it with her
horn or her nose, or may be with her ever-ready tongue. I doubt if
she has ever yet penetrated the mystery of the newer patent
fastenings; but the old-fashioned thumb-latch she can see through,
give her time enough.

A large, lank, muley or polled cow used to annoy me in this way
when I was a dweller in a certain pastoral city. I more than half
suspected she was turned in by some one; so one day I watched.
Presently I heard the gate-latch rattle; the gate swung open, and
in walked the old buffalo. On seeing me she turned and ran like a
horse. I then fastened the gate on the inside and watched again.
After long waiting the old cow came quickly round the corner and
approached the gate. She lifted the latch with her nose. Then, as
the gate did not move, she lifted it again and again. Then she
gently nudged it. Then, the obtuse gate not taking the hint, she
butted it gently, then harder and still harder, till it rattled
again. At this juncture I emerged from my hiding-place, when the
old villain scampered off with great precipitation. She knew she
was trespassing, and she had learned that there were usually some
swift penalties attached to this pastime.

I have owned but three cows and loved but one. That was the first
one, Chloe, a bright red, curly-pated, golden-skinned Devonshire
cow, that an ocean steamer landed for me upon the banks of the
Potomac one bright May Day many clover summers ago. She came from
the north, from the pastoral regions of the Catskills, to graze
upon the broad commons of the national capital. I was then the
fortunate and happy lessee of an old place with an acre of ground
attached, almost within the shadow of the dome of the Capitol.
Behind a high but aged and decrepit board fence I indulged my rural
and unclerical tastes. I could look up from my homely tasks and
cast a potato almost in the midst of that cataract of marble steps
that flows out of the north wing of the patriotic pile. Ah! when
that creaking and sagging back gate closed behind me in the
evening, I was happy; and when it opened for my egress thence in
the morning, I was not happy. Inside that gate was a miniature
farm, redolent of homely, primitive life, a tumble-down house and
stables and implements of agriculture and horticulture, broods of
chickens, and growing pumpkins, and a thousand antidotes to the
weariness of an artificial life. Outside of it were the marble and
iron palaces, the paved and blistering streets, and the high,
vacant mahogany desk of a government clerk. In that ancient
inclosure I took an earth bath twice a day. I planted myself as
deep in the soil as I could, to restore the normal tone and
freshness of my system, impaired by the above-mentioned government
mahogany. I have found there is nothing like the earth to draw the
various social distempers out of one. The blue devils take flight
at once if they see you mean to bury them and make compost of them.
Emerson intimates that the scholar had better not try to have two
gardens; but I could never spend an hour hoeing up dock and red-
root and twitch-grass without in some way getting rid of many weeds
and fungi, unwholesome growths, that a petty indoor life is forever
fostering in my moral and intellectual nature.

But the finishing touch was not given till Chloe came. She was the
jewel for which this homely setting waited. My agriculture had some
object then. The old gate never opened with such alacrity as when
she paused before it. How we waited for her coming! Should I send
Drewer, the colored patriarch, for her? No; the master of the house
himself should receive Juno at the capital.

"One cask for you," said the clerk, referring to the steamer bill
of lading.

"Then I hope it's a cask of milk," I said. "I expected a cow."

"One cask, it says here."

"Well, let's see it; I'll warrant it has horns and is tied by a
rope;" which proved to be the case, for there stood the only object
that bore my name, chewing its cud, on the forward deck. How she
liked the voyage I could not find out; but she seemed to relish so
much the feeling of solid ground beneath her feet once more, that
she led me a lively step all the way home. She cut capers in front
of the White House, and tried twice to wind me up in the rope as we
passed the Treasury. She kicked up her heels on the broad avenue,
and became very coltish as she came under the walls of the Capitol.
But that night the long-vacant stall in the old stable was filled,
and the next morning the coffee had met with a change of heart. I
had to go out twice with the lantern and survey my treasure before
I went to bed. Did she not come from the delectable mountains, and
did I not have a sort of filial regard for her as toward my foster-

This was during the Arcadian age at the capital, before the easy-
going Southern ways had gone out and the prim new Northern ways had
come in, and when the domestic animals were treated with
distinguished consideration and granted the freedom of the city.
There was a charm of cattle in the street and upon the commons;
goats cropped your rosebushes through the pickets, and nooned upon
your front porch; and pigs dreamed Arcadian dreams under your
garden fence, or languidly frescoed it with pigments from the
nearest pool. It was a time of peace; it was the poor man's golden
age. Your cow, your goat, your pig, led vagrant, wandering lives,
and picked up a subsistence wherever they could, like the bees,
which was almost everywhere. Your cow went forth in the morning and
came home fraught with milk at night, and you never troubled
yourself where she went or how far she roamed.

Chloe took very naturally to this kind of life. At first I had to
go with her a few times and pilot her to the nearest commons, and
then I left her to her own wit, which never failed her. What
adventures she had, what acquaintances she made, how far she
wandered, I never knew. I never came across her in my walks or
rambles. Indeed, on several occasions I thought I would look her up
and see her feeding in national pastures, but I never could find
her. There were plenty of cows, but they were all strangers. But
punctually, between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, her
white horns would be seen tossing above the gate and her impatient
low be heard. Sometimes, when I turned her forth in the morning,
she would pause and apparently consider which way she would go.
Should she go toward Kendall Green to-day, or follow the Tiber, or
over by the Big Spring, or out around Lincoln Hospital? She seldom
reached a conclusion till she had stretched forth her neck and
blown a blast on her trumpet that awoke the echoes in the very
lantern on the dome of the Capitol. Then, after one or two licks,
she would disappear around the corner. Later in the season, when
the grass was parched or poor on the commons, and the corn and
cabbage tempting in the garden, Chloe was loath to depart in the
morning, and her deliberations were longer than ever, and very
often I had to aid her in coming to a decision.

For two summers she was a wellspring of pleasure and profit in my
farm of one acre, when, in an evil moment, I resolved to part with
her and try another. In an evil moment I say, for from that time my
luck in cattle left me. The goddess never forgave me the execution
of that rash and cruel resolve.

The day is indelibly stamped on my memory when I exposed my Chloe
for sale in the public market-place. It was in November, a bright,
dreamy, Indian summer day. A sadness oppressed me, not unmixed with
guilt and remorse. An old Irish woman came to the market also with
her pets to sell, a sow and five pigs, and took up a position next
me. We condoled with each other; we bewailed the fate of our
darlings together; we berated in chorus the white-aproned but
blood-stained fraternity who prowled about us. When she went away
for a moment I minded the pigs, and when I strolled about she
minded my cow. How shy the innocent beast was of those carnal
marketmen! How she would shrink away from them! When they put out a
hand to feel her condition she would "scrooch" down her back, or
bend this way or that, as if the hand were a branding-iron. So long
as I stood by her head she felt safe--deluded creature!--and chewed
the cud of sweet content; but the moment I left her side she seemed
filled with apprehension, and followed me with her eyes, lowing
softly and entreatingly till I returned.

At last the money was counted out for her, and her rope surrendered
to the hand of another. How that last look of alarm and
incredulity, which I caught as I turned for a parting glance, went
to my heart!

Her stall was soon filled, or partly filled, and this time with a
native,--a specimen of what may be called the cornstalk breed of
Virginia; a slender, furtive, long-geared heifer just verging on
cowhood, that in spite of my best efforts would wear a pinched and
hungry look. She evidently inherited a humped back. It was a family
trait, and evidence of the purity of her blood. For the native
blooded cow of Virginia, from shivering over half rations of
cornstalks in the open air during those bleak and windy winters,
and roaming over those parched fields in summer, has come to have
some marked features. For one thing, her pedal extremities seem
lengthened; for another, her udder does not impede her traveling;
for a third, her backbone inclines strongly to the curve; then, she
despiseth hay. This last is a sure test. Offer a thorough-bred
Virginia cow hay, and she will laugh in your face; but rattle the
husks or shucks, and she knows you to be her friend.

The new-comer even declined corn-meal at first. She eyed it
furtively, then sniffed it suspiciously, but finally discovered
that it bore some relation to her native "shucks," when she fell to

I cherish the memory of this cow, however, as the most affectionate
brute I ever knew. Being deprived of her calf, she transferred her
affections to her master, and would fain have made a calf of him,
lowing in the most piteous and inconsolable manner when he was out
of her sight, hardly forgetting her grief long enough to eat her
meal, and entirely neglecting her beloved husks. Often in the
middle of the night she would set up that sonorous lamentation, and
continue it till sleep was chased from every eye in the household.
This generally had the effect of bringing the object of her
affection before her, but in a mood anything but filial or
comforting. Still, at such times a kick seemed a comfort to her,
and she would gladly have kissed the rod that was the instrument of
my midnight wrath.

But her tender star was destined soon to a fatal eclipse. Being
tied with too long a rope on one occasion during my temporary
absence, she got her head into the meal-barrel, and stopped not
till she had devoured nearly half a bushel of dry meal. The
singularly placid and benevolent look that beamed from the meal-
besmeared face when I discovered her was something to be
remembered. For the first time, also, her spinal column came near
assuming a horizontal line.
But the grist proved too much for her frail mill, and her demise
took place on the third day, not of course without some attempt to
relieve her on my part. I gave her, as is usual in such
emergencies, everything I "could think of," and everything my
neighbors could think of, besides some fearful prescriptions which
I obtained from a German veterinary surgeon, but to no purpose. I
imagined her poor maw distended and inflamed with the baking sodden
mass which no physic could penetrate or enliven.

Thus ended my second venture in live-stock. My third, which
followed sharp upon the heels of this disaster, was scarcely more
of a success. This time I led to the altar a buffalo cow, as they
call the "muley" down South,--a large, spotted, creamy-skinned cow,
with a fine udder, that I persuaded a Jew drover to part with for
ninety dollars. "Pag like a dish rack (rag)," said he, pointing to
her udder after she had been milked. "You vill come pack and gif me
the udder ten tollar" (for he had demanded an even hundred), he
continued, "after you have had her a gouple of days." True, I felt
like returning to him after a "gouple of days," but not to pay the
other ten dollars. The cow proved to be as blind as a bat, though
capable of counterfeiting the act of seeing to perfection. For did
she not lift up her head and follow with her eyes a dog that scaled
the fence and ran through the other end of the lot, and the next
moment dash my hopes thus raised by trying to walk over a locust-
tree thirty feet high? And when I set the bucket before her
containing her first mess of meal, she missed it by several inches,
and her nose brought up against the ground. Was it a kind of far-
sightedness and near blindness? That was it, I think; she had
genius, but not talent; she could see the man in the moon, but was
quite oblivious to the man immediately in her front. Her eyes were
telescopic and required a long range.

As long as I kept her in the stall, or confined to the inclosure,
this strange eclipse of her sight was of little consequence. But
when spring came, and it was time for her to go forth and seek her
livelihood in the city's waste places, I was embarrassed. Into what
remote corners or into what _terra incognita_ might she not wander!
There was little doubt but that she would drift around home in the
course of the summer, or perhaps as often as every week or two; but
could she be trusted to find her way back every night? Perhaps she
could be taught. Perhaps her other senses were acute enough to
compensate in a measure for her defective vision. So I gave her
lessons in the topography of the country. I led her forth to graze
for a few hours each day and led her home again. Then I left her to
come home alone, which feat she accomplished very encouragingly.
She came feeling her way along, stepping very high, but apparently
a most diligent and interested sight-seer. But she was not sure of
the right house when she got to it, though she stared at it very

Again I turned her forth, and again she came back, her telescopic
eyes apparently of some service to her. On the third day, there was
a fierce thunder-storm late in the afternoon, and old buffalo did
not come home. It had evidently scattered and bewildered what
little wits she had. Being barely able to navigate those streets on
a calm day, what could she be expected to do in a tempest?

After the storm had passed, and near sundown, I set out in quest of
her, but could get no clew. I heard that two cows had been struck
by lightning about a mile out on the commons. My conscience
instantly told me that one of them was mine. It would be a fit
closing of the third act of this pastoral drama. Thitherward I bent
my steps, and there upon the smooth plain I beheld the scorched and
swollen forms of two cows slain by thunderbolts, but neither of
them had ever been mine.

The next day I continued the search, and the next, and the next.
Finally I hoisted an umbrella over my head, for the weather had
become hot, and set out deliberately and systematically to explore
every foot of open common on Capitol Hill. I tramped many miles,
and found every man's cow but my own,--some twelve or fifteen
hundred, I should think. I saw many vagrant boys and Irish and
colored women, nearly all of whom had seen a buffalo cow that very
day that answered exactly to my description, but in such diverse
and widely separate places that I knew it was no cow of mine. And
it was astonishing how many times I was myself deceived; how many
rumps or heads, or line backs or white flanks, I saw peeping over
knolls, or from behind fences or other objects, that could belong
to no cow but mine!

Finally I gave up the search, concluded the cow had been stolen,
and advertised her, offering a reward. But days passed, and no
tidings were obtained. Hope began to burn pretty low,--was indeed
on the point of going out altogether,--when one afternoon, as I was
strolling over the commons (for in my walks I still hovered about
the scenes of my lost milcher), I saw the rump of a cow, over a
grassy knoll, that looked familiar. Coming nearer, the beast lifted
up her head; and, behold! it was she! only a few squares from home,
where doubtless she had been most of the time. I had overshot the
mark in my search. I had ransacked the far-off, and had neglected
the near-at-hand, as we are so apt to do. But she was ruined as a
milcher, and her history thenceforward was brief and touching!


If there did not something else go to the making of literature
besides mere literary parts, even the best of them, how long ago
the old bards and the Biblical writers would have been superseded
by the learned professors and the gentlemanly versifiers of later
times! Is there to-day a popular poet, using the English language,
who does not, in technical acquirements and in the artificial
adjuncts of poetry,--rhyme, metre, melody, and especially sweet,
dainty fancies,--surpass Europe's and Asia's loftiest and oldest?
Indeed, so marked is the success of the latter-day poets in this
respect, that any ordinary reader may well be puzzled, and ask, if
the shaggy antique masters are poets, what are the refined and
euphonious producers of our own day?

If we were to inquire what this something else is which is
prerequisite to any deep and lasting success in literature, we
should undoubtedly find that it is the man behind the book. It is
the fashion of the day to attribute all splendid results to genius
and culture. But genius and culture are not enough. "All other
knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of honesty and
goodness," says Montaigne. The quality of simple manhood, and the
universal human traits which form the bond of union between man and
man,--which form the basis of society, of the family, of
government, of friendship,-- are quite overlooked; and the credit
is given to some special facility, or to brilliant and lucky hit.
Does any one doubt that the great poets and artists are made up
mainly of the most common universal human and heroic
characteristics?--that in them, though working to other ends, is
all that construct the soldier, the sailor, the farmer, the
discoverer, the bringer-to-pass in any field, and that their work
is good and enduring in proportion as it is saturated and
fertilized by the qualities of these? Good human stock is the main
dependence. No great poet ever appeared except from a race of good
fighters, good eaters, good sleepers, good breeders. Literature
dies with the decay of the _un-_literary element. It is not in the
spirit of something far away in the clouds or under the moon,
something ethereal, visionary, and anti-mundane, that Angelo,
Dante, and Shakespeare work, but in the spirit of common Nature and
of the homeliest facts; through these, and not away from them, the


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